OK, I may not be covering any new ground here, but I am going to go on record as saying that fried potatoes are delicious. There. I’ve said it. But what to fry them in?
Traditionally, fries were fried in lard (pork fat) or tallow (beef fat). Then the naysayers came along and said that saturated fat would kill us so we needed to start frying in vegetable oil. But vegetable oil goes rancid quickly when subjected to the high heats used in frying, so we switched to hydrogenated vegetable oils that, it turns out, kill us. So kind of a swing and a miss on that one.
Recently, butter has made resurgence and olive oil is all of the rage, but neither one is a great oil for frying. Both have distinctive flavors that alter the taste of your fries and are prone to burning, especially butter. Furthermore, olive oil isn’t exactly a local product if you live in upstate New York. Vegetable oils tend to be high in polyunsaturated fats, which oxidize and break down during high heat cooking, forming trans fats and other weird stuff.
Which brings us full circle back to lard. Lard is a locally produced fat that has a neutral flavor when used for frying. It is low in polyunsaturated fats, so it is fairly stable at high temperatures. It is significantly higher in the “healthful” monounsaturated fats than either vegetable oils or butter and we think that lard from pastured hogs is a uniquely good source of vitamin D.
Maybe the best way to think about the fat composition of lard is that it closely resembles a mixture of half butter and half olive oil. So if you’re already using butter and olive oil – and I’m sure that many of you are – you really have nothing to worry about form lard. Look, I made a graph of it:
But what about saturated fat? Lard does contain 30 to 40 percent saturated fat, significantly more than olive oil, but significantly less than butter. I would argue that saturated fat has been largely exonerated in recent health studies. Just off the top of my head, the French Paradox is still waiting to be explained, the Nurses Health Study found no correlation between saturated fat consumption and heart disease risk after following 80,000 nurses for 20 years, the recent McMaster university exhaustive review of the literature found no consistent correlation between saturated fat consumption and heart disease and low carb diets have been shown to improve cholesterol levels. (I don’t really believe the cholesterol stuff either, but this is not the place for that discussion.) I think we can safely conclude that if dietary intake of saturated fat plays a role in the progression of heart disease at all, it is a secondary role. Saturated fat has been wrongly victimized.
All right! Let’s stop worrying about our health and start thinking about making some delicious fried potatoes. I’ve been working on a recipe that anyone with moderate cooking skills can consistently make at home without any special equipment and I think I’ve gotten it pretty well down.
I have several tips:
- Slice your potatoes thin. This slices cook faster and are easier to crisp. A sharp knife helps.
- Double fry. It’s hard to get the potatoes crispy on the first shot. Fry them until they begin to brown. Remove from the fat and let them cool. When you put them back in the hot oil they will crisp right up.
- Use good potatoes. Ask the farmer which potatoes are best for frying. I have used Sabol Farm’s Goldens and Muddy Fingers’ Germans to good effect.
OK, so here goes. Thin sliced potatoes are easier:
Slowly melt your lard in a frying pan. I use about a half pound of lard in an eight inch cast iron skillet. The more you use, the less the heat will drop when you add your potatoes which means less greasy potatoes. When the lard has all melted, you can turn the heat up to medium high. When you see a few whisps of white smoke it is time to add the potatoes. I like to add the slices one at a time so they don’t stick. Keep your heat on medium high to high. The potatoes will drop the oil temperature and we’ll need the heat to bring it back up. Watch again for whisps of smoke (not steam) from the oil and you can back the heat off to medium or so.
You can flip the potatoes once they’re nicely browned on the side that’s facing down, after 3-5 minutes. Cook them another 3-5 minutes until they are looking nicely browned all over. Remove them from the oil and drain them on some paper towels. At this point they’ll look nice, but unless you sliced them really thin they won’t be crispy yet. Set them aside to cool while you make any other dishes to be served.
When the potatoes have cooled and you’re finishing up the accompaniments, heat the oil back up to where you see little whisps of smoke again. Add the potatoes and cook for a minute or so. If things are going right, they will crisp and brown up in just a minute or so. Remove them from the heat, salt them and serve with grilled The Piggery deli-sliced ham and Schuyler Farmstead cheese sandwiches if you’d like: